Starting with a hypothesis

Alex writes:

Thinking about this in spare moments over the last few weeks, I’ve been going with the following hypotheses:

  1. that changes in the languages people use, or the status they afford those languages, represent informal challenges to systems of group identification and interrelation (e.g. community, nationality, ethnicity);
  2. that such informal challenges usually precede formal challenges (e.g. political expressions of nationalism);
  3. that informal challenges may even precede (stimulate?) mainstream demand for formal challenges;
  4. that this precessionary relationship is at least reasonably consistent, enough to act as a signal of possible challenges to prevailing identity systems.

This suggests to me a sort of triple S-curve, sketched below:


Anything we collect could perhaps be used to test and refine these hypotheses, to see how consistently they apply, and to see if any types of change in language choice correlate meaningfully with particular challenges to in group identity. My additional hypothesis, I suppose, is that change in language choice represents a relatively easy-to-spot informal challenge.

One of the clearest examples is from Wales:

  • 1880s: First Welsh-language dictionaries published
  • 1925: Plaid Cymru formed as a single-issue political organisation with primary aim of keeping Wales Welsh-speaking and promoting Welsh teaching in schools
  • Mid-1930s: Plaid Cymru adds self-governance to its agenda
  • 1937: Welsh-language regional radio broadcasting begins
  • 1962: Welsh Language Society formed to push a Welsh language rights agenda
  • 1967: Welsh Language Act established some Welsh ‘language rights’
  • 1993: Welsh Language Act put Welsh on equal footing with English
  • 1999: Devolution
  • 2007: Plaid Cymru enters coalition with Labour in WAG

Here we have a triple S-curve stretching over about 50 years from the first attempts to enhance the status of the Welsh Language in the 1880s to the emergence of the challenge for Welsh self-governance in the mid 1930s. (Not that you’d want to discount several hundred years of Welsh history prior to this, and its influence on the self-governance agenda.)

The aim, if the hypotheses check out, is to get shifts in language choice recognised as a trackable informal challenge to existing models of group identity and interrelation, in much as the same way as one might track low-level intercommunal violence, religious observance, online consumer or political buzz, expressions of protectionism, etc. The blog would provide a body of evidence and practice for this kind of tracking.


About thenextwavefutures

Andrew Curry is a consultant who specialises in futures for The Futures Company, based in London. All views are personal, etc.

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